Saturday, March 28, 2009

Online learning prevents on-campus assaults

Everyday you hear about some horror being perpetuated on a university or college campus. Rape, murder, assaults of all types, people intimidated and scared spit-less to make that long trip across the quad to the your next night class. It is a natural pressure point for every psychotic kook with a weapon. Herding that many of societies finest into one place makes a fantastic hunting ground for human predators.

These guys get off on the extra weird sense of power they have over people, institutions and society. They get a big kick out of tweaking the absurd theatre that that passes for security. They also may realize that a crime committed in the specialized jurisdiction of a university campus is more likely to get swept under the carpet and finally ignored, often with the victims being blamed in a hundred disingenuous ways.

Campus administrators have gone to extraordinary lengths to deal with this issue. They have created policies, and then policies on their policies. They have supported research into violence against women and minorities on campus and generally blame society itself for poor socialization techniques. They studied the campus sports teams, hazing practices and implicit messages that get transmitted through fraternities and the myriad of anti-social institutions that are taken for granted on campus.They spend oodles of time and effort to promote the control of guns in society. They talk and talk and talk about sensitizing men to gender issues. One other tactic that some administrators have used to reduce the impression that campuses are risky places is to lie about the incidents of sexual assault.

All the while they carefully ignore the one technique that might actually work. Computer and Internet mediated online learning is proving to be a viable alternative to the old institutional model of higher ed. Internet applications have become cheaper, more sophisticated and better than the old way. You don't have to trudge across town, find a parking spot, find the lecture theatre, look for a chair furthest away from the person coughing with her mouth wide open spewing every imaginable germ. All this for 50 minutes of some guy reading his powerpoint and passing out mountains of useless handouts. 60 minutes to get there, 50 minutes of lecture, 60 minutes home. The supposed collegiality of face to face learning is a carefully tended illusion. Some times you get to campus and the lecture theatre is full and you get to sit in overflow parking watching the lecture on CCTV. Could have had a V-8. At home.

Nope, to study online, you boot up your computer in the quiet of your home office after the kids have gone to bed. Look at the course outline and all the course materials on the wiki, watch the recorded video lectures of podcasts, pause it rewind it, fast-forward it, chat in an online IM system where your questions are considered and answered by faculty, TA and fellow students. That two hours you spend in transit for an on-campus course is spent much more comfortably in the company of spouse and family or even working on course assignments. When YOU feel you are done for the night you shut down the computer and carry on.

I've been looking for evidence that people have put this together. Online learning is hugely safer than on-campus learning. Why don't the local University Women's Centers promote online learning for this purpose and demand that more programs and courses be offered this way. There is enough baseline data that suggests that on-campus assault is a significant problem and that the large expenditures dedicated to the current methods for ameliorating the problem are money in the wind.

Maybe it's because everybody is still stuck in the factory model of learning.

I know that my research methodology for this post was pretty basic. Mostly a google search and the perusal of a number of University and College web sites.

The only two treatments of anything remotely related to this issue discussed Online learning for the empowerment of women and the use of online learning for Islamic women who observe purdah.

Moore, M. G., & Anderson, W. G. (2003). Handbook of Distance Education (1st ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum.

Olakulein, F., & Olugbenga, D. (2006). Distance education as a women empowerment strategy in Africa. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 7(1). Retrieved March 27, 2009, from

I think one of the main reasons is that higher education is a huge industry in its present form. It has nothing to do with pedagogy, it has everything to do with the economics of status quo. It has become a bit of a sheltered workshop for faculty, administration and support staff. It is a huge economic engine for communities with everybody from the lawyer on the senate to the landlord renting suites taking a slice. It is a grand finishing school/marriage market/party venue for all the immature children of an entitled class. A good part of all this on the public dime.

Politicians, policy makers, administration are all carefully tuned to the hum of the of the industrial education machine. They refuse to fast track online learning because the main concern is bums in seats, FTEs, good union jobs and grateful voters. Looks like Women's Centers buy into the same taken-for-grantedness that real learning only happens in a face-to-face setting. They haven't figured out that an online student is still your student even though they don't regularly get the pleasure of smelling the sneakers in a huge impersonal lecture hall.

Feeling a horrible flu coming on. Going to bed satisfied that my computer friends and online classmates can't catch it from me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Teachers have trouble learning

Article from the Chronicle of Higher Education

Bass, R., & Eynon, B. (2009). A plan to develop and spread better college teaching practices. The Wired Campus. Retrieved March 20, 2009,

Always baffles me to hear that we need to rely on the pedagogical skills of professional educators to steer us through the rapidly emerging world of web based resources for learning organized around communities of practice.

Then we are told that the same educators need more time, support, R and D, resources to learn how to teach using new modalities.

no tradition of connecting the edge to the center, no established practices that enable us to turn the individual breakthrough into something more than idiosyncratic

It is going to be tough if the community of professional educators has this much difficulty acquiring basic technological literacies.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Anyone...? Anyone...? Institutional Malpractice

Came across this video on Silvia Straka's excellent post on her blog.

All too realistic and the the only thing missing was an image of the yellowed notes the lecturer wrote the first semester he taught the class 10 years ago.

Oh… and maybe a few smudged up overhead sheets and the stack of unread hand-outs left behind on the lecture hall floor.

I know that there are lots of passionate, engaging lecturers and speakers of all sorts but they maybe in the minority. Any value in terms of content from this type of presentation could be easily delivered in a half a dozen different ways, video, podcast. At least that way students could review the material when they were ready to learn, or at least awake. They could pause for reflection, rewind to review, and use a social network to engage with the subject matter. And they wouldn't have to put up with the smell of the guy who came to class hung-over.

Everyday, thousands of people spend millions of dollars to drag themselves to a campus to participate in this sort of ritualized behavior. Just think of the carbon footprint.

To insist that students drag them selves into a lecture hall to sit for 50 minutes of this sort of mind numbing presentation is abusive and constitutes institutional malpractice.

Still in a lot of institutions this passes as the ideal of teaching and learning, predicated on the hegemonic assumption that the institution owns knowledge and can inject it into the minds of students. After a while there will be test or a quiz to test the student acquisition of knowledge, a dip-stick pushed into the mind of students to check the level. And then the assignment of a grade that permits the student to advance to the next stage of injection.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Gift Economies

Gift Economies have been around for a while.

Most often the gift is not monetary but reputation/karma enhancing. I read Cory Doctorow's Book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom when it was syndicated on his website. You can download it for free at this link. A highly recommended read.

He described a society that used Whuffies to recognize a persons reputational status in a post-scarcity economy to encourage the production of useful and creative stuff.

Came across a great instance of a gift economy on Twitter today. Its called Twollar

So you want to recognize someone for the value that they have freely offered to your Twitter community you send them Twollars by creating an entry like "Give 10 Twollars to @ggatin for telling me about gift economies" Twollars picks up the code and registers exchanges in their system.

The idea is that corporations will provide sponsorship so that Twollars will be translated in to charitable giving for worthy projects like drilling water wells in 3rd world countries.

I love it. Anything to break out of the corporate mindset, that everything of worth can only be measured black ink in by the bottom right hand corner of a spreadsheet.

So here is the deal. I will send a Twollar to any Tweeter who comments on this post. Heck of a deal. I have no idea how much this will cost me, I guess I should figure out how to the check the stats on this blog. Entirely likely that I will get off pretty cheap. Still trying to figure out the rate of exchange between Twollars and Whuffies.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Self-Styled Edublogger

Another great blog entry and good discussion from Terry Anderson.

A couple of references in the article and comments to "self-styled edubloggers" got me thinkin' harder than Queeks Draw .

From the article:
self styled EduBloggers or even that subset who consider themselves to be EduPunk

And Scott Leslie's comment:

what I find constantly amazing is when I come across another self-styled edublogger with whom I share absolutely NO points of connection.

I'm not sure if the term is being used in a pejorative sense and I don't want to poke anybody in the eye here but is there any kind of edublogger other than self-styled? Is there a certificate or license or graduate degree that would designate someone as being other than "self-styled"... Official edublogger or something like that? As the article goes on to point out the qualification to be an edublogger is pretty loose and informal.

There are people like Downes and Anderson who really do get me cogitating on a regular basis but even as I read them I try to remember my catechism of critical thinking.

I recognize that I also have a tendency to look for people who's views and attitudes are similar to mine but I also recognize that that tendency can be very self-limiting. If my network of practice just confirms what I already think I know for sure it's not much use to me.

There is an other issue for me about that Clarence Fisher alluded to in a recent entry on his blog Remote Access He was taking issue with the notion of "ed tech" and points out that the prefix "ed" or "edu" may be loosing its usefulness. Others took up the notion in the comments.

I write in a blog and often I write about topics of education and critical pedagogy as I try to learn more about those topics. The blog is more for my personal learning than a broadcast medium.

So I'm promising myself to start looking for and read material from people who have views and outlooks that may be dissimilar from mine. Started already!

Sharon Elin contributed a comment on Andersons blog post supporting the use of Twitter and microblogging.
I agree with her that it is a great new format and getting better all the time. I posted my first twitter post in Apr of 2006 but didn't really get into it until Jan 2008. Watching it evolve over the last year has been very interesting.

I'm still trying to work out my personal Twitter following policy but I find I look for a few things in a Twitter buddy.
When I look at a persons Twitter account first page I look for the frequency of posts and the recency. Somebody who hasn't posted for a month might not be appealing similarly someone who posts 100 times a day can be a pain. I look at the display page, I think it shows your last 20 Twits. I look for value, pictures, links, interesting comments.
I then look at profile. Is there a link to a blog that gives me some personal information? I find my preference is for those who are straight up, use their real name and are using a blog for personal development.

I block spammers, web entrepreneurs, new media gurus, porno sites, hookers, real estate agents and personal injury lawyers or anybody telling me how to make my fortune from Twitter.
Note to future self: look at this post in a while and see if this has changed.